Book: Black River (2016)

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Next: 6.






I don’t want to rush into it this time, not with you, not like before, not with the first one. I almost couldn’t help myself then, I’d already waited so long, but this time I think I can wait a little longer. This time I will let myself savour the thrill of the chase. This time I will enjoy every step along the way. Though already I can’t wait to have you, my whole body burns with anticipation. And yet even still, you for your part you have no idea. Or maybe you’re just pretending. Maybe you know as much as I do about what’s coming to us, that great rift in the universe that will slice open all time forever for a moment. Perhaps you only feign ignorance of the fate in store. If that’s the case then I know you must be burning as much as I am for that moment but you must be patient. We both must be patient.

I’m walking the canal by the cathedral, the university at my back and the park on the other side of the slow black trickle that moves forever beside me. I can see fish beneath the water, dim shapes of deeper black flitting sleekly beneath the surface. I had fish for breakfast this morning and it’s funny that I remember that because I usually don’t but yes, I did. Tuna forked out of a can over naked toast. I couldn’t eat more than a few bites but I remember it. It was early in the morning. It is early in the morning.

He moved slowly along the canal walk, a slight breeze ruffling his hair and the sky bright and blue above him. To see his smile, thin bloodless lips, pressed together in a tight crescent, one might mistake it for a symbol of some sick serenity, though no such sensation resided within. The eyes told it—the emptiness, the void. If he had ever had so much as a metal plate or a pacemaker placed within his body one could say he was more robot than man, such was the paucity of human emotion in his person. But he was a creature of viscera and like all creatures he craved. Closer to that mouth, barely audible on his breath that smelled of sweet and sour decay, a quiet chromatic tune ebbed and flowed with no apparent rhythm or reason. He did not even notice it himself and when his attention was drawn lazily from the river of ceaseless thoughts that raged within his mind, the tune stopped.

Up ahead, with the lock and pier and coast in view on the horizon, three teenaged girls were standing by the railings of a playground facing the canal. They wore the frayed navy woollen jumpers of school uniform, their skirts defiantly high over runners and boots that were certainly not school issue. His pace did not quicken as his eyes tracked their movements like the target of a homing missile set to destroy. They smoked cigarettes and chewed gum, arms crossed over chests and gestures jerky and self-consciously cool. He raised a hand to wave.


The girls stopped and looked up at him, closing in. One of them, perhaps the leader, eyed him scornfully, while the other two looked to her first for assessment and then back to him, shy and furtive. They were nearing the end of their teenage years and by now well aware of the potential danger that lurked behind the approach of any unknown man.

“Alright,” the leader nodded, nonchalant, and now he was beside them, standing closer than anybody with a modicum of social insight would.

“I was wondering if you could tell me what time it is?” he asked. He was blocking their view of the sun so that his face was a shadow and his eyes unseen behind the searing white tint of his glasses.

“Yeah, sure,” the girl said, “it’s twelve o’clock, a little bit passed.”

“Shouldn’t you girls be in school?”

They could see his strange unfaltering smile, though little more.

The leader girl cocked her head to the side, flicked ash from the end of her cigarette, and stared at him dead in the direction of his unseen eyes. “We have the day off.”

“You shouldn’t smoke you know, it’s disgusting.”

“Well that’s our business, isn’t it?”

He did not move or speak, the smile remained for a moment and then he pursed his lips together and spat at the girl’s painted forehead. Before realization could settle the jolt of their surprise he had turned and continued walking down the canal at the same leisurely pace as before. They screamed after him in anger and shock, a barrage of insults and offense, but he paid them no mind. From his lips again the tune began to sound.

At the bottom of the steps by the lock, where the water settled in a pool of languid, ineffable black, he turned right towards the pubs and clubs of the city’s west-side, the final outpost of the social city centre before the streets gave way to the supermarkets and garages of suburbia. Turning up Dominick Street so that he was now facing north again, he began to make his way up towards the hospital. From there he walked for miles.

Now, sometime later, he walked through the wide indolent pavements of some housing estate, one of countless more just like it, each barely distinguishable from any other. He walked with the same relaxed and affable stride as he had since he’d begun, a warped flâneur whose interest in his surroundings was solely reserved for the profane. Finally, he reached the destination, a house at the end of a cul-de-sac, its stop a sweetly conspicuous crop of oak trees dissected by a path to the next estate over. He did not pause or allow himself to look at the house until he was safely hidden in shade.

Can you feel me? I bet you can, can’t you? I bet you feel this delicious tingle too, this wonderful scrumptious excitement now that we’re so close together again. Don’t let it show on your face. Hide it from them, those savages, that unworthy whoreson who gave you his seed, the bitch who harboured you in her rotten womb until you were ready to begin your proper gestation in the world beyond. Now you are ready at last, your destiny is almost complete. You will graduate with full honours beneath me. Honey, I’m so proud of you. Imagine my fingers on your lips. I know you can feel it, but please, don’t laugh!

That’s right, hide it inside you. This pleasure is just for you and me. They would never understand. They would crucify you if they ever even sensed that you should one day rise leagues from their pigsty. Oh yes, ignorance must feed itself on ignorance alone if it’s ever to survive and all else must be destroyed. They would drag you from your bed and crucify you on the street. All the neighbours would slink from their houses and gather around to watch. And all because they fear, my love. FEAR. But we do not fear. We would not even give it a name. Please be patient. I will take you from them soon, you have to trust me, I’ve done this before, but first you must be patient. I want to enjoy this. I need to.

He stood in the shadows of the oaks, hands hanging limply by his sides from flaccid wrists. Fingers that ached to choke a young girl’s neck. He did not move. He barely breathed. He smiled sickly, his eyes did not blink. Minutes passed, perhaps not many, a cyclist passed him on the pavement and never thought to turn his head into the darkness beneath the trees. He went on unwatched. Somewhere in the distance a dog barked. The door to her house opened and filial voices carried to him effortlessly across the windless day.

Her father first stepped out, holding a bottle entombed in shiny red and gold wrapping paper with a ribbon on its neck. He was dressed smart-casual with a grey blazer over shirt and jeans. From the shadows of the trees he could not have read the kindness in the lines on the man’s face—the fluster, impatience, and excitement of his expression—and if he could have he would not have understood any of it. The mother followed next, an older woman but beautiful in a long black gown with her hair done up. He paid neither any mind. He knew what happened next.

It was her, like a revelation, stepping from the doorway. The one he hunted. She could not have been more than twenty-two or twenty-three years old, she had the beauty of a model but with the kindness of a certain youthful wisdom on her face. Her eyes were blue and her hair blonde as his intent had stipulated, a wholly different palate to Emily’s for a change of pace, and anything else about her was simply superfluous. He watched her and as he did one foot moved reflexively forward, his entire body shuddering with orgiastic sensation. Then they were in the car, pulling out of the driveway and driving away. He waited for a moment and then stepped out of the trees.

Did you feel it! You did, didn’t you! I saw it on your face, the same as mine, you felt it just the same as me, God, my fucking GOD! I thought I would burst. Oh my, my oh my. You held it well, I must say, a commendable performance. The fools were none the wiser as you navigated that storm of pleasures and thrills. I only saw it myself because I was looking for it. Because I was looking and because I can feel you, because of our connection. I wanted to do it right then, be damned to the interference, I almost did but I am strong. I am stoic and I am strong. I am an exemplary inspiration to the worms. They could all take a bite from my apple and the world might be better for it. Yes, so we wait. Because, of course, the time wasn’t right. You felt that too, I know, even if you longed for the contrary. That’s why you need me. You are young and I am your guide. Trust me and, as ever, be patient.

Soon I will bring you to my altar, draw the sacramental wine from your veins. I will open you and free you. We will drink the juices of life, we will share that together and I will take you forever away from here, forever away from them all. And their lives will go on, dumb, brutish and ignorant, like pigs in a cage. They will never even notice that you are no longer there. Because they never saw you as I do. They never knew what you are truly worth.

He was standing now by the front door. To be safe he rang the bell, lest anybody still remain inside, and then he tried the handle. No budge, but that much was to be expected. He walked along the face of the house and then cupped his hands against the window, peering into the dim living room inside, mentally mapping the layout within. The street around him was still empty, though he did not check and nor did he care. He walked around the side of the house to try the back door. No luck, it was bolted and locked from the inside, and he smiled at this resistance, the refusal of the lock fuelling a certain kind of teasing foreplay to the experience.

Beside the back door a window gave view to the kitchen inside, clean and neat and tastefully-fixtured, the fridge tacked with photos and letters from loved ones and the table adorned with a bowl of fruit and two silver candleholders erect on either side. He pressed his hands against the glass, resting his forehead on the surface, eyes closed, enjoying it. Then he opened his mouth and licked a long line upward along the cool glass. When he stepped back the imprint of his hands and tongue remained in a translucent ghostly mark that would, later that day, fade away entirely so that when the family returned they would never imagine who it was who had come to their window to bear witness that afternoon.

He heard a purr and turned back to face the lawn. A tabby cat, Rubenesque and pampered in its grooming, strolled towards him and then stopped, sitting down to weigh up this unfeeling intruder who had entered its territory. It opened its maw as if to yawn and then meowed.

“Hello lover,” he said.

He moved slowly to his knees and waited for the cat to come to him, which presently it did. Gently he took it in his arms and cradled it, stroking its fur with his chin as its soft belly vibrated with the thick, guttural emissions of its pleasure. He rose to his feet, softly stroking the cat as he carried it, and then walked back around the front and on to the road. Up ahead now a young father and son were kicking a yellow football slowly between them on the tarmac. Still stroking his carrion, he walked smoothly by them, eyes ahead on the pavement and thin smile on his lips.


The father called to him as he passed and he did not turn or slow or register the intrusion at all.

“Hey you! Where did you get that cat?”

“It’s my cat,” he called back, continuing to walk up the road. “I lost it once but I found it in the trees down there. It got away from me but never again, ha ha.”

The man whispered some strong words to his son and then moved after the stranger. “Stop,” he called, “I’m talking to you!”

Raising the cat to his lips, softly he murmured, “Go on now sweetie,” and then he dropped it to the ground.

The father, outraged and red-faced, continued after him, such that he was even obliged to quicken his pace, before the other man finally gave up at the end of the estate. Once he was in the clear again his gait slowed and the smile returned to his un-furrowed face.

Bastard! Fucking meddling cunt. Probably take the little puss back to you and present himself a hero. Of course, of course! How could I have thought it would be so easy, that none other in that shire should register your majesty? Maybe he’s more awake than the others then, maybe he has eyes for you himself. You must stay away from him, he is a danger, he would hurt you, don’t ask me how I know because I wouldn’t wish to tell but you must trust. I see now why you keep the doors locked. My dear you are as wise as you are beautiful. I would take his eyes out in an instant with my bare hands. Then who would the hero be? I’d give them to you in a svelte little jewellery box. Wouldn’t we laugh? We would toast champagne.

Beast! Intruder! Savage and envious swine! He has ruined my day! I’m only glad you’d already left by then, that you were spared the distaste of hearing his bark. What a voice, what an impetuous beast. A voice that deserves to have its vocal chords shred. I would remove the head and kick it to the boy, kick it back and forth—a better football to play with, a better father figure to admire than that fucking brute! I am enraged. I have been disserviced. My noble and lofty goals have, on this day, suffered a grievous affront. This evening I shall stick a knife in something and know that the cleansing blade moves beyond space and time and into his dreams. Then he will know regret. He will never be the same again. Perhaps after that he will leave you alone.

He was to go the work place that evening and take part in a late shift and he walked now all the way back across town to his apartment, entirely unaware of the hot ache in his legs that had resulted from a whole day of ceaseless wandering. At home, he selected the work costume and dressed himself before setting out again to the shopping mall. It was a Friday, as it had been the day Emily had come to the store with her friends, and though late, it was as busy now as it had been back then.

The previous shift worker, a mid-twenties layabout whose mind was already hungrily anticipating the feast of cheap cans and joints that would await him after work, nodded to him in greeting as he came in behind the counter.

“Hey,” the worker said, “you didn’t happen to be on staff for March twentieth did you?”

He turned towards his colleague, vacuous smile and empty eyes. “How would I know that?” he said.

The worker shrugged. “Yeah well, some journalist guy was in earlier, said he wanted to speak to whoever was working that day. I stuck his card in the cash register.”

“I wouldn’t know about that.”

The younger man nodded slowly. “Sure,” he said, “ok then. I’m off. See you later.”

He did not reply and the other worker left the shop, glad to be away from the strange being who had taken over for the evening and gladder with every step that brought him further away. Walking to the cash-register, now alone in the shop, he pressed the key to open it and then took out the card from inside. “Galway Times,” it read, “Brian Hardy: Senior Reporter.” Beneath that was a phone number. Idly, without thought, he placed the card in his pocket and then promptly forgot about it, as his mind gave way to the furore of his thoughts.

They watch you, don’t they? Incessantly—the neighbours. Yes, I’m beginning to get the full picture now alright, now I am beginning to understand how it really is for you. They never sleep do they, they never stop? Long into night they stand by the window, blueish silhouettes against the dreadful glow of their television sets. Mindless zombies, they slaver and chomp and dream of being worthy to caress your cheek, to take your golden locks between their teeth and taste the sweet secretions of your feminine scalp. When they see you they ejaculate, their bowels loosen, urine flows in hot streams down their legs and they are too strange to even change their clothes. Oh my darling, how it must disgust you! Now it all makes sense, now I understand you fully. Oh my poor sweet girl. Oh darling.

You must be strong, their ignorance and cowardice is their weakness and I am confident enough that none should be so brave as to attempt to harm you, at least not in the few short days before I can come and redeem you from their midst. You must hold out and think of me if it ever gets too much. Be strong like I know you are. Be strong for daddy. I am coming for you darling. I am coming for you soon.

In the case of an emergency, staff at the phone store, whilst working alone, were permitted to close up shop during normal operating hours, pulling down the shutters halfway and placing a sign on the metal grille proclaiming “Someone will be with you in five”. This practice was strongly discouraged by management and was almost never instigated by the other workers.

When he grew bored or distracted on the evenings he happened to be alone, he would sometimes make use of this convenient loophole and wander for ten or fifteen minutes around the shopping centre, visiting the other shops or observing the late-night shoppers like a man somehow stranded against his own wishes in a particularly mundane safari experience. Hitherto, he had never been called out by management for this gross insubordination, though this was more a result of good fortune than anything else.

Now, with his mind somewhat frenzied, or at least more frenzied than usual, he stepped out from behind the counter and began to pull down the shutter. A woman who had been eyeing the shop from across the way with the intent to buy, approached him.

“Are you closed?” she asked.

Without turning to face her, he hung the sign on the grille and then tapped his finger against it. “Someone will be with you in five,” he said and then wandered away across the plaza, leaving her to decipher the exact meaning of his words for herself.

This should be a slaughter house. That would be the work place. Can you imagine? I would dress in white aprons stained with juice, soft white cloth of a butchers’ cap on my head. I would wield the cleaver, wouldn’t you love to see it, sweetness? The justice of shepherd and flock. Oh, in a perfect world, you would be by my side, your golden locks safe beneath the criss-cross web of a hair net, your supple young flesh naked but for an apron of your own. I can almost hear your joyous laughter, it is like music to my ears. We would make love in an abattoir of flesh, I would feed you their meat and bone and cradle you in my arms as I watched it make you strong. I would spread your legs and feed you, I would impregnate you with the glory of the gods. I would put myself inside your womb.

I am walking across the mall, no light of sun has ever touched this place. It is quiet now as it is getting late but still these proles fulfil their duty, feeding the system with their coinage. Cogs in a machine. I pause by the window of a hairdresser, tall beauty cutting locks from some young ape. I would see her draw those silver blades down to his throat, the hands no longer her own, horror in her eyes as she cannot stop what happens. The artery bursts, the blood shoots out across her face. She turns to the window to see.

I am walking past the shops, many closed now, closed for the night. Newsagents’ ahead with the newspapers in a stand outside its open doors. I move closer, something has caught my eye. Sparks burst from my chest, powerful electricity though it is no pleasure, not like before. It is her, on the cover—the first one, your predecessor, who once fulfilled her purpose long ago. I feel sick in my stomach, like the vomitus is ready to bubble up. I read the headline beside her face. “Mother of Missing Emily Slams Tenuous Garda Lead”. There is a lump in my throat like violence. Coldness precedes the rage, I need a moment to process. I see the name beneath the headline and I know it. It says: “Brian Hardy”.

Taking the paper in his hands he held it close to his eyes and read the words printed there studiously. Beneath the headline, the story began:

“The mother of twenty-one year old Emily Whelan, who went missing after a night out with friends on the twentieth of March this year, has spoken out against the tenuous lead put forward by Garda Sergeant Michael Ward relating to the case. A suspect, known to the family, had been sought from his home abroad and was out of contact for a number of weeks, though this paper can now report that he has been reached and intends to return and submit himself voluntarily to questioning after dealing with some pressing obligations at home.

Said Mary Whelan of the suspect: “[The suspect] would never lay a finger on Emily, not in a million years”. Mrs. Whelan claimed to have spoken to the boy in recent days and asserts that he has a strong alibi for the night in question, having spent it with friends at a house party that lasted until the following morning, when he boarded a bus for Dublin Airport with his travelling companions. At the time of printing, Sergeant Ward was not available to respond to these latest developments.

Emily Whelan had been out socializing with friends on the night of Friday the twentieth of March when…”

Fingers white around the paper, his face somehow even paler than usual, he stood outside the newsagent, lips moving with the frenzy of his silent muttering. From the counter inside, a young student on exchange from India watched him cautiously. When he turned finally to leave, paper still in hand, the shopkeeper called after him:

“Excuse me sir, are you going to buy that paper?”

He turned slowly, eyes furious behind the glass of his spectacles. His voice was like the Minotaur when he spoke. “Go home and fuck your mother’s corpse,” he said.

He left the mall and returned without haste to the home place. The sign remained on the shutters of the phone store until the following morning when the manager would arrive. They would try to call him but he would not answer and never answered their call again. He had more important concerns now and another job would be easily found.

He recognized the name, pulling it from the fog of his previous disregard. It was the name on the card, it was the name on the first article. Pillaging the waste-bin in his kitchen, he found that first affront, the picture that had so insulted and offended him, violating as it did what he believed to be his own sole and sacred property. He spread it out now on the table along with the latest Emily report. Yes, on both the name was the same. And this man had been at the work place that day, he had been looking for him, with a lie on his lips and the intention to trap. Oh yes, it was undeniable. He knew. The man from the newspaper knew it all.


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